Tag Archives: exams

Mission accomplished: I am now a licensed Private Pilot!

Date: 14/09/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Total
This flight 2.70 0.00 2.70
Total to date 51.2 15.2 66.4

Well, it’s official. I flew my PPL test yesterday and passed with (dare I say it) “flying colours”!

Well, not quite … in fact there were plenty of mistakes, on which I will reflect in this blog post. However, evidently none of them were deal-breakers.

I can’t quite express how happy and satisfied I am at having reached this landmark goal that I’ve held for so long. In fact I think despite 8 months of regular flying I still can’t quite believe I’ve actually done it. For so long, for so many years, being able to fly seemed like an impossible dream. Then opportunity knocked in the form of a TV game show, and all of a sudden it was within reach. Now it’s done.

Perhaps the best way to express my frame of mind today, the morning after, is “quiet but intense satisfaction”.

Now, my customary “long blog post” warning should probably apply from here on in. I don’t know how long this will take, but I’ve got so much to download, this could be fairly lengthy. Totes props to any of you readers who make it to the other end.

Preparing for the flight

I got to the club at 0730 sharp. And I’m very glad I did. Given the packed morning I had (as I’ll relate) before finally getting away at 1245, getting there early and getting the aircraft squared away definitely paid dividends.

I bumped into my instructor, John, who wished me well. The weather looked pretty good – CAVOK conditions – and he asked me where I was going. I told him I didn’t know, and would ask my test officer (our CFI, Bill) when he came in. John opined that I should have called Bill previously to sort this out. Well, I hadn’t (I’ve had a pretty distracting week at work), so I was a little apprehensive at that remark, but not overly so. I had the skeletons of 9 different flight scenarios already pre-planned, at least for the outbound leg. And there are only so many places you can go ex-Bankstown for a 2-3 hour round trip flight. So I figured I was reasonably prepared for whichever way Bill wanted to go.

I grabbed a cup of tea and walked out to the flight line. I was able to spend a relaxed ½ hour with the aircraft, NFR. I called up the fuel truck and while I was waiting, turned on the master switch and checked lights and stall warning indicator. The landing light was out (as had previously been noted on the Maintenance Release) but all good otherwise. Oil was just over the minimum 6 litres, brake fluid reservoir nearly full. All else was good. I then sat in the cockpit and spent 10 minutes re-familiarising myself with the NAV/COM systems so as not to repeat my radio error on my previous flight.

With full fuel on both tanks (and good luck wishes from the fuel guy), I filled a bucket of water and swabbed down the front and side windows, closed the aircraft and headed back to the clubhouse.

Flight planning twice over

As luck would have it, Bill was in the clubhouse when I got back from the flight line. I greeted him and asked him where he’d like to head for the test. Eyeballing the weather, Bill said he’d like to head to Bathurst, then down to Crookwell for some air work and back home via Bindook. I pulled out my flight plan for Bathurst via Warragamba and Katoomba and asked him if that worked – he said yes. So I downloaded the relevant weather reports and spent the next hour developing the full flight plan.

Once done, I checked in with Bill. We started on some of the preliminary paperwork, then I commented that there was still a SIGMET in place indicating possibility of severe turbulence below 6000 feet over and in the lee of the ranges. As it was, winds of up to 35 knots were forecast around the 5000 and 7000 foot levels. After reflecting on this, Bill decided (with my fervent agreement) that perhaps heading across the ranges in a Warrior was not perhaps the best idea for today’s test (downdrafts, anyone?) so we quickly decided on an alternative: Cessnock/Scone via Warnervale. While still windy and somewhat turbulent, the weather looked decidedly better if we stayed east of the Great Dividing Range.

So off I went for another 45 minutes or so of furious flight planning. I was thanking my stars (or more correctly, my pre-test preparation) for the fact that I already had that flight planned out as far as Cessnock, so I wasn’t starting from scratch.

I only had this thought this morning: thank goodness I chose to fly the Cessnock/Scone with diversion scenario as my last dual training flight before the PPL test. I didn’t have to do that last training flight: I could have gone straight to the PPL without it. But had I done so, I would have gone into yesterday’s PPL flight a bit “blind”. I wouldn’t have had the extra experience of flying through the Lane of Entry. I wouldn’t have had the familiarising experience of flying for the Singleton NDB (Non Directional Beacon) and navigating to stay clear of the restricted Dochra military area around Singleton. Nor would I have had the experience of having to divert to and locate the Warkworth aerodrome to the west – which is exactly what eventuated yesterday.  So I consider the fees for that last dual cross-country flight as money incredibly well spent.

Ground quiz

The second flight plan finally done, I swallowed hard and approached Bill to say that I was ready.

“Will you walk into my parlour?”, said the Spider to the Fly

Mary Howitt, 1829

Well that’s melodramatic of course – nothing so evil, though it does portray my moderate level of apprehension at that point. We closed the door, sat down, and got into the ground quiz.

What is it about this portion of the practical tests? As was the case with my GFPT ground quiz, I got through it OK, but on several questions I found myself stumbling and on a couple I flat out said, “I don’t know”.

Bill worked his way through the “Knowledge Deficiency Report” that spat out from my PPL theory test and satisfied himself (more or less) that I had adequate knowledge in each of the areas.

  • Refuelling precautions? Check – good answer there.
  • License privileges? No problems – nailed that one.
  • Take-off and landing distance calculations? I’d already had them done and reviewed them with Bill earlier in the morning. No further questions, y’r honour.
  • Interpret ARFOR? Fortunately the ARFOR for area 21 was reasonably straightforward. Bill asked me about the validity of a TAF (Terminal Aerodrome Forecast) and I fluffed half of the answer through simple mathematical error but nailed the other half and quickly corrected my error. It was enough to convince Bill I knew was I was talking about. OK, move on, nothing to see here.
  • Engine temperature control? Pretty good answer. Pass.
  • Pitot static systems? No worries.
  • Lift? Man. Try as I did, I just couldn’t seem to understand the gist of the question Bill lobbed at me here. Went around it for 5 minutes or more. Whether he moved on out of pity, or I actually gave him the answer he was seeking, I’m still not sure. Less said the better.
  • Visual scanning? Correct technique described, all good.
  • Threat & Error Management? Flubbed the actual answer, though I think again Bill was convinced I have a general understanding of the TEM model. Mercy was shown.

A couple of other technical questions which evidently were satisfactorily addressed, and Bill declared stumps. Time to get into the sky.

Getting away: Bankstown to Patonga

The ATIS was information Golf, with takeoffs on 29R to the west, with moderate and gusting variable headwinds with crosswind up to 10 knots. Nothing too arduous. As I walked out to NFR, having signed out and grabbed the flight bag, I thanked myself for having gotten in early and readied the aircraft. All I had to do at this point was the fuel checks (first flight of day and after the morning’s refuel) and another quick walk-around, untying and removing the pitot cover. I opened up the cabin, got my stuff organised and by the time Bill got to the aircraft I felt squared away.

I asked Bill whether he wanted me to demonstrate the aircraft inspection or go through the standard pre-flight passenger brief. He indicated that we could take those as read, so it was straight into the aircraft and into the start-up procedures.

I think Bill liked the look of the little custom-assembled Flight Procedures Manual I’ve put together. I have A5-sized copies of the Bankstown aerodrome map, our club PA28 Cherokee flight procedures, a list of essential radio and NDB frequencies (Bankstown, Camden) and my own custom-developed pre-flight procedures checklist all mounted on cards and filed in a book with plastic sleeved pages. As I pulled it out and ran through the pre-start and post-start checks, I heard a quiet grunt of approval and saw the pencil go to his checklist – so a solid start, I thought. Bill also had a squiz at my flight plan and liked what he saw, at least I didn’t get any challenges about that.

Out onto taxiway Mike 2 and taxi clearance obtained from Ground, I gave Bill a verbal Departure Brief and then pulled into the run-up bay. Run-up and pre-flight checks completed and the Emergency Brief delivered, we taxied for the holding point for runway 29R and held for a couple of minutes for a preceding aircraft to take off. Clearance obtained from Tower, I lined up and we were away.

At 500 feel AGL I turned on to 010M for Parramatta and immediately felt the influence of the moderately strong westerly wind that was to dog me for the entire day. Flying a more or less northerly track for Parramatta, I had to lay off about 20 degrees to the left just to avoid getting blown over into Class C airspace. OK, at least I knew what I was dealing with.

Over the Prospect-Potts Hill pipeline and it was up to 1900 feet over Parramatta. Pretty soon I picked up the Pennant Hills strobe light and was able to track direct for that point. Transponder to 1200 (for class G airspace) and radio to Sydney Centre on 124.55, I commenced a brief climb to 2400 feet and reported just south of Pennant Hills to alert any traffic possibly heading west to the Lane of Entry via Hornsby from the coast. This was a trick I picked up from John in my last dual training flight, and I think Bill liked it.

Conscious of the westerly all the while, I was mildly stressed about finding the right angle of drift to lay off, varying between about 10 and 20 degrees left. Fortunately the various northbound landmarks (M2 interchange, Pennant Hills CBD, the Sands hospital, Thornleigh covered reservoir, Hornsby rail sheds etc) all materialised into view and kept me honest. The only real area of uncertainty for me was north of Hornsby: there’s about a 5-minute period there where you’ve got no more immediate landmarks and you have to trust your flight plan to pop you out correctly over Patonga. As I approached the Hawkesbury River area I sighted Brooklyn Bridge a little too close on my left, indicating that I’d been laying off a little too much drift and was in danger of impinging on the southbound Lane of Entry. I corrected this and made for what I was reasonably sure was – and which turned out to be – Patonga. Phew. First leg done.

Whither Warnervale? And the terminal velocity of apple cores

My next leg was planned to overfly the Warnervale Aerodrome. Over Patonga, I did the standard Time-Twist (heading bug)-Turn procedure, turned for my planned heading for Warnervale and shortly afterwards commenced a climb from 2400 to 7500 feet.

Bill questioned me about the height I was planned to fly to – did I really want to get to 7500? My following track to Cessnock was going to require descending to 6500 feet anyway, why go so high? This conflicted somewhat with the advice I’ve always received from my instructor John – to wit, “height is your friend”. I didn’t feel it was the right time to say, “the Grade 3 instructor who trained me would disagree with you, Bill” so I kind of played a straight bat and continued climbing. Having reached 7500 feet and flown for a few minutes, Bill was kind enough to observe that “at least it’s smoother flying up here” – which it was!

Then came the first glitch of the day. Searching for Warnervale Aerodrome, I started to form the view that I was too far north! And, I think in hindsight, I was also too high to accurately spot the aerodrome.

Bill agreed, and opined that I’d already passed it. Clearly I was so focused on the climb to 7500 feet (during which, in the last 2000 feet or so, climb performance had been woeful due thinner air and my full fuel tanks) that I’d neglected to get my head outside the cockpit enough. A glance to the left and I saw the end of the mountainous area north of Sydney that borders the southern end of the Hunter Valley, confirming that I was already entering into the general vicinity of Cessnock Aerodrome, which was my next destination after Warnervale.

So I decided to cut my losses and head straight for Cessnock. I relayed this decision to Bill, who agreed calmly enough. I changed course and descended to 6500 feet. Bill also commented that our groundspeed had been quite slow (he’d been monitoring the GPS in the cockpit, more on that later) and that as a consequence he’d like to do a few touch-and-goes at Cessnock, rather than overflying direct for Scone per the original plan. OK.

Levelling out at 6500 feet, Bill asked me to crack open the storm window on my side of the cockpit. About 10 minutes earlier he’d pulled an apple out of his pocket and had eaten steadily through it. So I complied, at which point he leaned across and neatly lobbed the core out the window! I was mildly taken aback – though reflecting on this, we were over what looked like unpopulated and bushy territory so there was probably no immediate safety risk to life or property below us. But much as this may have been a habit born of Bill’s (doubtless) thousands of hours of flying, it’s not something I’ll be doing in a hurry. I wouldn’t want to be the unlucky recipient of an apple core to the head from 6500 feet …

Over the ranges and into the Hunter Valley, I informed Bill that I would approach Cessnock Aerodrome on the dead side of the circuit and would descend to 1700 feet to overfly the aerodrome if needs be. Bill commented that while a lot of training material recommends overflying at 1500 feet AGL, this is in fact circuit height for heavy aircraft (jets, RPT etc) and the strictly recommended height is 2000 feet AGL. My question was, how can you see the windsock from that height? Good question, Bill replied! Basically it comes down to conditions and common sense, in Bill’s view – for example, there is no RPT operations around Cessnock that he is “aware of”, and 1500 feet was OK for today.

Down to 1700 feet and approaching Cessnock from the west, I had tuned in to the Cessnock CTAF in an effort to identify which direction the traffic was using. I had intended to overfly the aerodrome and spot the windsock (mainly to show Bill that I was aware of proper procedure), however we heard a couple of transmissions and saw traffic confirming that circuit direction was on runway 35.

So Bill recommended we descend to circuit height and get on with it, which I did quickly, dropping to 1200 feet and joining mid-crosswind. As I did so, I ran through the prelanding checks and saw another box get ticked off on Bill’s worksheet.

Circuits and bumps at Cessnock

First up was a standard landing with 2 stages of flap. Radio calls were fine and so was the approach, though the wind was pretty choppy down low and I was struggling a bit to fly proper square circuit legs. Final approach was fine, though – of course – I had to drop it down hard, having fallen prey to my old bugbear of flaring too early above the runway. Bugger. Oh well, anyway, down we were and then with flaps quickly retracted we were off again. Put it out of the mind and move on.

Second circuit was much better. Managed to fly the legs reasonably square, and I remembered to fly an extended downwind leg as this was to be a flapless landing. In any case, traffic ahead of me was doing the same. On the way in, Bill advised that after this landing we would depart to the north and head for the Singleton NDB.

And fortunately, this one was a greaser! I more or less intentionally managed to keep my speeds 5 or so knots above normal – is as the procedure for a flapless landing in Cherokees – touching down lightly at around 75 KIAS. Much better. Flaps in again, and off we went.

Climbing to circuit height, I levelled out and continued on runway heading for 2 nautical miles, extending the upwind leg so as to depart the area safely. Once clear of the aerodrome, I made a departure radio call, then as per Bill’s instructions set course for the Singleton NDB and commenced a climb to 4500 feet.

Circles over Singleton

As we climbed, Bill took me to task for the way I was flying the aircraft in terms of controlling pitch. I was struggling to reach the Best Rate Of Climb airspeed of around 80 KIAS, and was probably falling into the trap – in my admittedly overanxious state – of chasing the VSI (Vertical Speed Indicator) as it dipped above and below the zero mark in the choppy air.

The gist of what he was communicating to me was that I was failing to use my Attitude Indicator properly. He told me to choose the correct attitude for the climb – in this case about 5 degrees above the horizon I think – then trim it out and leave it alone.

This frankly has not been a big part of my training to date. In the climb, the main instrument I’m used to using is the Airspeed Indicator – making sure I’m at the correct speed (usually around 80 knots BROC), not too fast and definitely not too low, risking a stall. The only time I’ve had to really pay much attention to the Attitude Indicator is during my mandatory 2 hours of instrument flying – under which circumstances the Attitude Indicator becomes all-important.

Bill offered the view that many instructors tend not emphasise the importance of using the Attitude Indicator during PPL training, resulting in the need to breaking “bad habits” when pilots progress to higher levels of training and instrument flying.

Anyway, he was at me about this all the way to the NDB and intermittently for the rest of the flight. I was of course unsure whether this meant black marks against me for not flying within altitude tolerances, or whether it was in a more general sense part of Bill’s approach, which is to instruct in ways that don’t influence the outcomes of the actual check ride. Also he may have been intentionally building up some pressure on me to see how I would perform under a bit of pressure.

A few miles south of the NDB Bill informed me that once past the NDB he wanted me to do a 45-degree of bank steep turn to the left. Oh, great. Just the thing I’d been hoping to avoid having forgotten to practice this manoeuvre on my recent solo flight in the training area.

Well, I’m not sure if it was the accumulated pressure and stress, but quite simply I ballsed up the first attempt. In a nutshell, I didn’t bank past 30 degrees but (as per steep turn procedure) I did open the throttle full wide and consequently found myself over-revving the engine and climbing well outside of desired tolerances for a steep turn.

Bill was not overly pleased with this. Not sure if this was strictly allowed in terms of stepping outside his role, but Bill saw fit to demonstrate a short steep turn to me, driving home again the importance of using the Attitude Indicator to maintain desired pitch.

I humbly (and quickly) asked for a second chance, to which Bill agreed, and this time – thank goodness – I managed a reasonable attempt. I find steep turns a bit of a challenge, and of course while I should really have been observing whether I was maintaining a constant attitude (relative to the real horizon or to the Attitude Indicator), what I was of course watching were my altimeter (to try to avoid climbing or descending too far during the turn) and my Directional Indicator (to try to ensure that I anticipated the roll-out to straight-and-level by 30 degrees or so).

It was a bit up and down, but I pretty much nailed the roll-out on the desired heading and managed to bring it out flat on 4500 feet, from which I’d started the turn. Whether out of eventual satisfaction or despair I can’t be sure, Bill said that would do for now.

Diverting activities: Return to Warkworth

And then – this was where I was so thankful for having done the previous cross-country flight up in the area – Bill said that instead of heading for Scone he would like me to divert to Warkworth. He offered to take the controls while I sorted out maps, headings and so forth.

Fortunately, this took me all of 30 seconds or so. I pulled out my VNC (Visual Navigation Chart), and sketched a quick line from the Singleton NDB to Warkworth Aerodrome. Reading from this line a true heading of about 270 degrees, I subtracted local variance to arrive at an estimated required track of 258 degrees magnetic. And laying my notched pencil over the flight planned track, I quickly estimated about an 8-minute flight to Warkworth.

Resuming the controls, I quickly radioed Brisbane Centre and made my request for a flight plan amendment. This exchange went perfectly, with Bill’s only comment being that I should also have identified myself as a VFR flight.

So, we were off west to Warkworth flying at 4500 feet, with me anxiously searching for the airstrip. Fortunately, I arrived more or less directly overhead the airstrip and was able to identify it quite distinctly from 4500 feet altitude, a good 2000 feet lower than when I’d last been over the area. (Having located the aerodrome a few days previously on Google Maps didn’t hurt, either).

I pointed out the aerodrome to Bill and indicated that I would overfly it before changing course southwards. Bill concurred, and then asked me to prepare a track southbound for the Mount McQuoid NDB.

As it happened, I’d planned the flight assuming a southbound leg from Scone to Warkworth and thence to McQuoid and home, so I already had the required magnetic heading at hand. Therefore over Warkworth it was a simple matter to do Time-Twist-Turn and get sorted out for McQuoid.

Heading home: Instruments, NDB’s and GPS’s

Once established on the southbound track for McQuoid, Bill asked me to hand over the controls and to put on the hood. I hadn’t expected this, but I’ve been quite comfortable with the hood work so far in my training and saw no reason to be scared of it this time around. Bill said that he wanted me to fly on instruments for a few minutes.

So with the hood on, I focused on my Attitude Indicator as the primary instrument, and my other instruments as secondary, and moved into the rather zen-like state (at least that’s the way it seems to me) of relying solely on your instruments. At the PPL level, I believe the goal is to stay within 5 to 10 degrees either side of your desired heading, and within plus or minus 100 feet of your required altitude, all the while of course maintaining a steady desired attitude for straight and level flight, turns, climb or descent as the case may be. Four or five minutes in, evidently this part of the flight was successful and I was allowed to remove the hood and resume visual navigation.

With a good 20 nautical miles or so to go, Bill took the opportunity to quickly demonstrate some of the features of the (rather antiquated) GPS system installed in NFR’s NAV/COM stack. I’d already indicated in conversation earlier in the day that I was keen to get my head around GPS navigation, about which Bill was very supportive as he’s a keen advocate of “use every bit of equipment available to you in the cockpit”. Whereas I think my instructor John is more of the “navigate by dead reckoning” school of thought, at least so far as PPL training is concerned –hence my training has had no GPS content to it.

Didn’t take Bill long to convince me that my next learning step is to get into GPS navigation (as a secondary means of navigation, of course, to back up the traditional methods I’ve learned). For a start, knowing just how far I had to go to reach the NDB was invaluable – no need to guess, you know at any point exactly how many nautical miles away the waypoint is. And further, knowing exactly what my current magnetic track across the ground was, versus the track required to get to McQuoid, took all the guesswork out of chasing the needle on my Automatic Direction Finder. And this was just an old GPS unit – lacking all the fancy features of more recent ones, with on-screen maps and what-have-you.

Once at McQuoid, Bill took the controls while I practised entering our next waypoint – in this case, the NDB at Calga just north of Brooklyn Bridge – into the GPS unit. And bang, there it was. Too easy.

Descending to altitude 3300 feet to be under the 3500 foot control step by the time I reached Calga, I was well set up for the Lane of Entry and well clear of Richmond airspace as well (which had nearly been my nemesis in my previous flight up that way). So note to self: when southbound for the Lane of Entry, use Calga NDB as final waypoint before Brooklyn Bridge!

As we approached Calga, Bill also pointed out to me a region of some cleared spaces on low peaks off to our left, one of which is (apparently) an airstrip at Mangrove Mountain. Useful to know in the event of a forced landing or PS&L scenario, over an area otherwise consisting pretty much of hills and bush.

Anticipating flying down the Lane of Entry and approaching Prospect and Bankstown, I already had my required radio frequencies dialled up and had a sneaky listen to the Bankstown ATIS to find out conditions there. Bankstown was on information Juliet, with landings on 29R to the west and with a crosswind alert. Great, good to know well in advance.

Lane of Entry and the ever-present Richmond restricted airspace

Descending to 2400 feet to be under the control step, I flew over Brooklyn Bridge and made my southbound call to Lane of Entry traffic. Conscious of Richmond to the right, I scanned keenly for the Berowra strobe, which Bill informed me had been inoperative the previous night. (It’s out very frequently, apparently). I was all set to have to visually identify the Berowra township itself and the strobe area just to the southwest, when I saw the strobe and was therefore able to relax a bit and head straight for it.

Once there, I set the required southbound track for the next waypoint – being the strobe on top of the Dural tanks – and started to scan for it. With the westerly wind very stiff now, I had to lay off drift to my right to avoid getting blown left into controlled airspace, and as a result allowed myself to stray a bit too close to Richmond airspace on the right for Bill’s liking. He alerted me to this but was kind enough to allow me to correct the situation – which in any case was not out of control as I’d correctly identified the electricity substation at Galston and was keeping it well clear to my right.

What I hadn’t spotted – until Bill pointed it out to me – was the second strobe flashing quite prominently just out and off to my left. Additional note to self: actively scan when up and down the Lane of Entry. Use my head and neck, lean forwards, don’t allow the windscreen pillars to obscure my vision of important landmarks.

Once the second strobe was reached, it was then a matter of heading south over Castle Hill and visually locating Prospect Reservoir, and descending to the required height of 1500 feet for the Prospect reporting point. I made another check of the ATIS – still on Juliet – and then dialled in the Tower frequency, to monitor local traffic and prepare for contact with the tower.

And it was at this point – though I didn’t realise it until down and parked – that I made my last mistake of the day. And a blood annoying, niggling mistake it was too. I forgot to change my transponder back from 1200 to 3000 once I dialled up tower frequency and approached the Bankstown control zone. Simple mistake, but not a good one to make. Fortunately, this didn’t finish me off as I’d correctly set the transponder when exiting the Bankstown zone at the start of the flight. I reckon Bill put this down to stress of the flight, and let it slide. It pissed me off though: after all the flights on which I’d correctly executed this simple part of the procedure, I had to pick my PPL test flight as the first (and only!) time to forget it.

Reaching the quarry east of Prospect which serves as the reporting point, I reported inbound and was cleared to join downwind for runway 29R and maintain 1500 feet. I turned left and headed for the airfield, searching as I did so for the Dunc Gray Velodrome which now serves as a landmark for GA VFR aircraft approaching runway 29R. I ran through the BUMFISH checks and, once more or less abeam of the velodrome, I reported downwind and was cleared for a visual approach to 29R, being number 1 for the runway.

Down and dusted

Happily, I made a pretty good job of the approach and landing. As I’ve blogged before, I’ve found the quick drop from 1500 feet to circuit height (1000 feet) and then getting set up for approach and landing to 29R a bit of a rushed challenge in the past. But thankfully yesterday it worked out well.

I can’t quite recall my exact sequence of actions (throttle back and nose down, carby heat on, 2 stages of flap) to get down to 1000 feet on time to reach circuit height on late downwind, but the base turn was right on schedule, at the right height and airspeed, and after a bit of initial juggling to get aligned and on the right approach path, I nailed the final landing. Lovely to hear those tires go “chirp” for the CFI on the last lap of the day!

Off the runway and with taxi call made to Ground, I taxyed for parking and ran through my CFROST checks. Bill was asking me why my switches weren’t off yet – not sure if I’d adequately demonstrated to him that I had the right post-landing procedure in hand – but I told him I was using CFROST and he seemed happy enough.

I taxyed very carefully off onto the grass and into parking, ran through the shut-down procedures, and then took one deep, deep breath. I was mentally and physically exhausted! 2.7 hours on an often-choppy PPL check ride, with no break for a stretch, and my right leg had been a bit crampy on the way home. There’s no question but you do plenty of work on a PPL check ride.

So? Did I pass?

Bill started to debrief me on the flight and review the things we’d discussed and he recommended I focus on. Not wanting to interrupt him, I listened patiently for about 10 or 15 minutes, until I could stand it no longer. My gut said I’d probably passed – just – but I needed to hear it one way or the other. So I said, “So, how’d we do here, Bill?” And the bugger just offhandedly looked at me and said, “Oh, yeah, that was alright, you passed” and then grinned at me. He then offered me his hand and congratulated me, and I thanked him – genuinely – for being part of what was one of the proudest days of my life.

Bill tied the plane down and put the cover on the pitot tube while I did the paperwork and squared away the cabin. On the walk back to the clubhouse I was regaled with stories of Bill’s time as a Head Teacher of Aviation Studies with TAFE, in the days when TAFE owned and operated a Beechcraft Baron. Those were the days …

Paperwork, and silly English scenarios

To cap off the afternoon, some CASA paperwork to finalise outcomes of the test and apply for my PPL, and then the last thing that had to be done was an English language proficiency test. This consisted of Bill playing me a couple of audio tracks from his computer, put together apparently by people at CASA and consisting of imaginary “in flight” scenarios and conversations between pilot and air traffic controllers, speaking variously with very heavy, impenetrable “foreign” accents. The gist of the exercise was for me to listen to these scenarios and then describe to Bill exactly what was going on.

Simple enough for me, as a proficient English speaker, though I can see that this would have been a stiff test for those with not proficient with English – which I suppose is the whole point. I had enough trouble listening carefully for 5 or 10 minutes as it was, after the often-arduous flight, but evidently Bill was satisfied. A final handshake and a promise to mail the papers to CASA immediately, and we were done.

Mistakes and things I learned

  1. Missing Warnervale. I think 7500 feet or so AGL is just too damn high an altitude from which to visually locate a small aerodrome. I had the same challenge when I was trying to locate Warkworth Aerodrome from 6500 feet back in my last dual cross-country flight. Conversely, as I related earlier, I had no problems locating Warkworth yesterday from 4500 feet. (Though admittedly I’d been there before). So my tentative thinking here is: if I’m trying to locate an aerodrome I’ve not previously been to, 4500 feet or so AGL is about the limit from which I can hope to spot it.
  2. Overflying the aerodrome. Strictly speaking this should be at 2000 feet AGL to avoid circuit traffic at 1500 feet AGL (heavies, RPT etc). But it’s kind of a “common sense and circumstances thing”, according to our club CFI.
  3. Maintaining desired pitch attitude during flight. Whether you’re climbing or descending, or in straight and level flight, pay attention not just to your attitude as indicated by looking out the window, but also to your Attitude Indicator. If you use the AI to set and maintain the desired pitch attitude, and trim the aircraft properly, you won’t need to chase the needles and should be able to fly effectively “hands off”.
  4. Use GPS technology where available. Of course, only as a secondary means of navigation. But man oh man, it’s handy.
  5. Actively scan for the strobes and landmarks on the Lane of Entry. One might be hiding just behind the windscreen pillar and out of your sight if you’re not actively and fully scanning – left, right and forwards.
  6. Setting the transponder when exiting/entering Bankstown control zone. ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS make the required change to transponder setting at the same time as I change radio frequency, both when exiting Bankstown control zone (radio to 124.55, transponder to 1200) and entering it (radio to 132.8, transponder to 3000). No exceptions.

Reflecting on the journey

So here we are. 8 or so months after my first flight, and with many significant landmarks along the way. Lots of things stand out.

All in the space of 8 short months. And here I was – here I am – suddenly having reached the goal that so many have shared over the years since general aviation became accessible to members of the general public. Not to over-romanticise too much, but I do feel as though I’ve joined a very privileged and select group of people: those who are lucky enough to be able to step in an aircraft and “slip the surly bonds of earth”* for a few hours at a time.

* With a nod to John Magee, an American pilot and poet killed in a flying accident while serving in the Battle of Britain. Magee wrote the famous and rather lovely poem High Flight.

Where next? Not sure. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and I don’t know when I’ll next fly. Somewhere in the next 6-8 weeks I guess. Somewhere in the general scheme of things to do next are:

  • First flight with my wife (maybe a weekend to Mudgee at some point?)
  • Joy flights with family members and friends
  • And, hiring John to show me the ropes of the Victor One/Harbour Scenic flights over Sydney.

Plus I also want to get my head around using GPS as an additional navigation tool. And I wouldn’t mind getting a CSU/retractable endorsement in the near-ish future as well.

Whatever lies next, I now have my “license to learn”. Can’t wait for the piece of paper to come in the post …

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Gettin’ ready for the big one: PPL test next week!

Right, then. We’re getting down to the final 10 minutes of the game here. Specifically: if next Wednesday’s (14 September) weather holds up, I should know by about 3.00pm that day if I’ve finally got my coveted Private Pilots License.

Practiced my emergency procedures

Having completed my final dual cross-country flight, I also flew a quick hour in the Bankstown training area back on 26 August. Practised my stalls (power-off and in landing configuration), forced landings and Precautionary Search & Landings. Much to my annoyance, I forgot to practise my steep turns, on which I may be tested and to be frank I haven’t really got them nailed yet. But, c’est la vie and all that – will just have to focus and nail them if asked to do it on the day.

Stalls were fine. Forced Landings were OK – maybe a 6/10 – I only realised after I’d done them that I’d incorrectly put the aircraft into a glide at 80 knots, rather than the “Best Rate of Glide”speed of 75 knots. Won’t make that mistake in the PPL test!

Precautionary Search & Landing again OK, though I made a bunch of passes over the landing area at 1000 feet above ground level and neglected to drop down to 500 feet above for final pass and to simulate actual landing approach. Again, won’t make that mistake in PPL.

In any case I’ll be revising all these procedures in my Flying Training Manual over the next couple of days to make sure I don’t forget any detail. It’ll be OK.

Most annoyingly, before taking off at Bankstown for that flight I made the very rookie error of believing that I was transmitting from my COM2 radio while the transmission switch was on COM1. Consequently, I made repeated calls to the Tower over the Ground frequency. Convinced I had radio problems, I requested permission to taxi back to parking and was given permission to taxi via the runway (having already approached the runway holding point). Once off the runway and halfway to parking, I spotted the error, turned around and headed back, with apologies to Ground (who were very nice about it I must say).

One lovely thing about this flight: cloud was scattered puffs of fluffy white cumulus at about 2000 feet, so climbing up through and above them to 4000 feet to practise my stalls, I was treated to the lovely vista of white clouds immediately below me. There’s something new about every flight I do, and in this case, I do believe it was the first time I’ve flown solo in the training area with significant cloud below me. Made it a slight challenge to navigate visually so as to stay within the boundaries of the Bankstown training area – a new twist that I’d not had to manage before.

Now I’m hitting the books

It seems prudent to go over all the theory and all the practical stuff outlined in the Flying Training Manual as well. Here’s when I feel very blessed by my memory’s capacity for retaining heaps of stuff through short-term study.

Have been through the BAK and PPL theory materials, just working my way through Air Law again and then I’ll hit the Flying Training Manual (boning up in particular on Forced Landings, Precautionary Search & Landings and Steep Turns). Then it will be my little “cheat booklet” on the Piper Warrior with all the operating speeds and performance matters specific to the aircraft.

Then I think I’ll pull out ERSA and my maps and bone up on all of the aerodromes I’m likely to be possibly landing at or navigating to on  the day (depending on where the weather dictates that we fly to on the day). Make sure I’m clued in to aerodrome specifics (for example, at Cessnock you have to call ahead to get permission to land, and on runway 35 up there they only do right hand circuits).

Further, a survey of possible/likely diversion destinations would seem prudent. And finally, I think I’ll pull out my old flight plans and have them ready to choose/copy from when my flight route for the day is determined. The less flight planning I have to do from scratch on the day, the better.

On the day

Gonna get me a good night’s sleep on the night prior – not too much study hopefully. Make a decent lunch and take a big bottle of water.

Aircraft (my reliable old NFR, hopefully) is booked for 9.30am, but I’ll be there at 7.30. Will get it fuelled up and inspected early, and I wouldn’t mind 10 quiet minutes in the cockpit to completely refamiliarise myself with the radio and navigation systems. Make sure I have the radio buttons all sorted!

And focus. (As I write I have the spectre of a job redundancy hanging over me, which is of course quite stressful – I’ve gotta put it out of my mind for Wednesday). And – as several have advised me – take it carefully, treat it as a passenger flight, and enjoy it!

Will report back …

Nav 6: 2nd solo nav flight Bankstown-Cowra-Orange-Bankstown

Date: 03/06/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.00 4.00 0.00
Total to date 44.04 12.30 2.00
Second solo nav
 
On Friday 3 June 2011 I flew my second – and final, pending my Private Pilot License tests – cross-country solo flight. It had been a full month since my last cross-country flight to Canberra. Since then I’d had a short flight in the training area, but nothing too substantial, so it was really good to get out and stretch my wings, as it were.
 
For those not wanting to read about this flight in detail but wishing to have a look at the pictures I took (with my humble Blackberry), see the Google Picasa slideshow.)
 
The flight requirements and route
 
Flying a few hours solo cross-country is part of the curriculum requirements for the Private Pilot License. On this flight it was necessary for me to achieve three things. First, minimum flight duration of 3 hours. Second, minimum flight distance of 150 nautical miles. And finally, 2 landings at 2 separate aerodromes.
 
For practicality and safety reasons it made sense for me to fly solo a route I’d previously flown dual with my instructor back on my 2nd navigation exercise. So the planned route was YSBK-WAD-YCWR-YORG-YBTH-YKAT-WAD-TWRN-YSBK. Which translated means:
  • Start from my home airport of Bankstown (YSBK)
  • Fly to Warragamba Dam (WAD)
  • Thence direct to Cowra for first landing (YCWR)
  • Thence direct to Orange for second landing (YORG)
  • Then home flying Orange direct over Bathurst (YBTH),
  • Then Katoomba (YKAT),
  • Then back to Warragamba Dam
  • Reporting inbound to Bankstown at the 2RN radio tower (TWRN) then home.

Getting away

For weather and schedule reasons I’d postponed this flight several times. It was reassuring, during the preceding few days, to read consistently favourable forecasts, and conditions were CAVOK at my place when I woke up that morning, and out at the airfield a few hours later. Having already done most of my flight planning, it was relatively quick to check the ARFOR (Area Forecast) and TAFs (Terminal Air Forecasts) and factor the forecast winds into my flight plan for my planned tracks and time and fuel calculations.

My instructor had a quick look at my flight plan and at the weather forecast and quickly signed me out to go. He DI’d the aeroplane for me (that is, he did the Daily Inspection – I can’t sign off on this until I’m qualified), wished me an enjoyable flight and left me alone without further ado. I taxied NFR to the edge of the taxiway and called up the fuel truck. (Fuel trucks being unable to go on the grass due to recent rain). I performed my own inspection of the aircraft as well – I make it a rule that I always do this even if an instructor has already DI’d my plane and signed off on it – and after getting a full load of Avgas in both tanks I was ready to go.

Leg 1: Bankstown to Cowra

Taking off to the west in calm and nearly CAVOK conditions, I exited the Bankstown control zone and climbed to 4000 feet, flying through the Bankstown training area and tracking for Warragamba Dam. At Warragamba I climbed to my planned altitude of 6500 feet and maintained the same heading to track for Cowra.

As I crossed the Great Dividing Range I could see large patches of morning fog abeam both sides of the aircraft. I knew from my pre-flight planning that Bathurst was fogged in, which was of mild concern as I planned to overfly Bathurst on my return leg later in the day. However, I figured I could check the weather conditions from both Cowra and Orange when  landed at both those aerodromes, and if necessary steer clear of Bathurst. As things turned out, the Bathurst fog cleared well before I was back in the area later in the day.

Morning fog off to my right, outbound to Cowra

Once across and west of the mountains I noted an increasing build-up of cloud up ahead, roughly level with my altitude. I decided fairly quickly not to try to fly about the cloud, firstly because from what I could see it was building up to be at least 4 to 5 OKTAS (that is, covering four to five-eighths of the sky), and I felt that flying above the cloud layer would exceed my personal minima. Secondly, an increase in flight level would have taken me to 8500 feet (per regulations for flying levels about 5000 feet) which would put be just under Class E airspace. There’s nothing that would have forbidden me to enter Class E, but having never done so before, I decided my first time would not be on this day. Possibly over-cautious, but I prefer this to not being cautious enough.

Cloud building up, outbound for Cowra

So it was down to reducing altitude and seeing how the flight progressed, being ready to turn around if the cloud forced me below the LSALT (lowest safe altitude) listed on my flight plan. So down I went, progressively, to about 5200 feet, putting up with the more turbulent air.

As things turned out, the cloud didn’t force me any lower – albeit things were darker once I was under the cloud layer – so my passage to Cowra was unimpeded. I flew the rest of the 1-hour leg uneventfully, noting more cloud off to my right around the Blayney area. Passing Mt Misery on my left and skirting the northernmost edge of the Blayney Wind Farm, I selected the frequency for the Cowra NDB (non-directional beacon) on my ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) receiver, making my inbound call to the Cowra CTAF when I judged myself within 10 nautical miles of the aerodrome and descending gradually to circuit height.

Tracking for Cowra, approaching Mt Misery

There was not much wind evident in the Cowra area but as luck would have it there was a bit of traffic around the aerodrome, including a light trainer and a paraglider, both making radio calls indicating that runway 33 (landing towards the north-west) was in use. So I joined the circuit mid-crossfield and flew a standard circuit approach, making my mandatory radio calls as I did so, and made a decent landing at Cowra. I decided to park and take a toilet break, so taxied off the runway to the small Cowra terminal and parked on an otherwise empty tarmac. It was bitterly cold with no-one about (apart from a Diamond trainer who landed shortly after me), so I didn’t hang around too long.

Leg 2: Cowra to Orange

I took the opportunity to check the current weather conditions at my next destination of Orange, courtesy of the web browser on my Blackberry phone, and while indications were low-ish cloud around the aerodrome, nothing suggested that I alter my flight plans. So without further ado I started up, backtracked on 33 then turned around and took off to the north-west, circled left and climbed to circuit height, then overflew the aerodrome and tracked direct for Orange.

Instrument panel, 4200 feet inbound for Orange

It’s only about 20-25 minutes flying in a Warrior from Cowra to Orange and a pretty straightforward leg of flying, apart from staying well clear of a designated danger area off to your left in the form of an open-cut mine. So aided by my ADF turned in to the Orange NDB I pretty quickly found myself in the Orange area and listening to the CTAF for clues on local traffic and runway in use.

Turned out there was quite a bit of traffic around the Orange circuit – probably the busiest day I’ve so far experienced at a non-towered aerodrome. Amusingly, one pilot in the area was clearly from the West Indies, broadcasting his position and intentions with a lovely Caribbean drawl that made me picture Bob Marley in the cockpit (“November Mike Lima, turnin’ ba-a-a-se”) and brought a smile to my face.

Fortunately, my experience from my first solo flight landing at Wollongong had taught me the value of extreme vigilance in and around the circuit area and I made sure not to rely solely on what I was hearing through my headset and to keep a very sharp look-out. Despite the several aircraft in the area, I felt calm and in control of the situation, which as a small but satisfying confidence boost.

Traffic was landing in the 29 direction (towards the west), unlike my previous visit to Orange when landing was in the easterly direction. Finding myself approaching the aerodrome on the live side of the circuit, I decided to join on the downwind leg and announced my intentions accordingly. I was quickly down on the ground with another satisfactory landing. On roll-out and approaching the main taxiway connecting the Orange runway with the terminal area, my path on the taxiway was blocked completely by a large twin (not sure what it was, possibly a King Air) or something larger, so I was left with no choice but to taxi the full length of the runway to exit on the smaller taxiway which I knew to be at the runway’s far end. So I kept up my speed – not wanting to hang around on the runway and knowing that other aircraft would soon want to be landing behind me – and fairly sprinted for the taxiway, breathing a small sigh of relief than I was able to radio my “clear of all active runways” message.

I taxied to the Wade Aviation hangar where the fuel bowser is located, and finding another aircraft already fuelling, parked just across the taxiway and shut down. Once he was clear, I started up, taxied to the bowser and shut down again, then hunted down someone in the Wade hangar to help me with fuelling. Armed with one of their swipe cards, I filled NFR up, returned the swipe card, paid for the fuel and sat down in the adjacent small lawn area for a quick lunch.

Warrior NFR, parked in fuelling area at Orange Airport (YORG)

Leg 3: Orange to Bankstown via Bathurst and Katoomba

It being time to go – and wanting to get back to Bankstown so I could get home in a reasonable time – I was back in the cockpit and going through pre-startup checks still wiping crumbs from my mouth. A quick check on the CTAF frequency told me that the traffic pattern had changed and Orange traffic was now using the 11 runway – a takeoff to the east. So without further ado I was away, with the usual pre-takeoff checks and the mandatory radio calls.

Tracking east direct for Bathurst I climbed to 5000 feet and levelled out, with cloud still above me and not wanting to move above 5000 and be in contravention of the regulation requiring any flight tracking between 0 and 179 degrees magnetic above 5000 feet to maintain altitude of “odd plus 500” thousand feet (eg. 5500, 7500).

Again, it’s a fairly quick hop from Orange to Bathurst and I was soon overflying the aerodrome, intentionally seeking it out for the sheer discipline and exercise of doing so (rather than turning early on to my Katoomba heading). You never know when you might be in need of any local knowledge during a future flight …

Overflying Bathurst

From this point, it was uncovered territory for me. On my previous flight in the area, Bathurst was the point at which my instructor had given me, as an exercise, a diversion south to Oberon. This time, no diversions were necessary and I was bound direct for Katoomba.

So I set course south-east for Katoomba, noting that as I tracked eastwards the cloud appeared to be lifting again. As I approached Katoomba I decided not to overfly the airfield proper, preferring to skirt west of Katoomba and over lower ground, giving me more options in the event of an engine problem at that point in the flight.

Heading south-east abeam Katoomba

To my pleasure – especially given the mountainous terrain of the Great Dividing Range that I was crossing for the second time that day – abeam Katoomba just before crossing the range proper I was able to climb my planned altitude on that track of 7500 feet. This was the highlight of the day’s flight, not only allowing me (albeit briefly, as I was close to home) to climb into some gorgeous still air, but also affording me some truly majestic views of the Blue Mountains and the Great Dividing Range, with serried ranks of imposing sandstone cliffs and escarpments rising above the greenery. These moments truly make recreational flying worthwhile.

I was struck, although still some 50 nautical miles away from home, just how early I could see the smudge-like look of the entire Sydney Basin open up before me as I glanced left from 7500 feet up. Which reminded me that I was pretty close to home and I should start thinking about how I was going to get there!

Looking east towards the Sydney Basin from 7500 feet

Approaching Sydney from the north-west as I was, the logistical issue to be dealt with was to avoid infringing on controlled military airspace in the Richmond area (that is, Richmond RAAF Base), which lay directly between me and Bankstown as the crow would have flown. (The alternative would have been to seek an airways clearance to enter Richmond airspace, which is frequently done in certain circumstances, but  hadn’t done it before – my flight through Canberra’s Class C airspace notwithstanding – and wasn’t about to attempt it now). I started descending, knowing that I had to get down from 7500 feet to 4000 feet by the time I reached Warragamba Dam to fly under the Sydney Class C control step. And as a quick means of confirming how far south I was on my track towards Warragamba Dam – enabling me to skirt the Richmond area – I tuned my ADF receiver to 576 kHz, the frequency of ABC Radio National as broadcast by the 2RN tower which is one of the two inbound reporting points for Bankstown. Noting the ADF needle swinging to roughly 45-450 degrees to my left, I reasoned that it wouldn’t be long before I’d be needing to turn east to head home and that I must be getting close to Warragamba. Almost immediately, I sighted what I now know to be Lake Burragorang – the main water storage that is impounded by Warragamba Dam – up ahead and knew that all I had to do was to turn left and follow it all the way to the dam. Which I did, continuing to descend to 4000 feet, and I was soon overflying the dam, seeing the expanse of the Sydney Basin open up before me.

Tracking Lake Burragorang east towards Warragamba Dam

Ten minutes more and descending to 1500 feet, I was quickly at 2RN and, inbound clearance received, joined “right crosswind” (a slightly unusual direction from Bankstown Tower) for my approach and landing from the east on runway 29R. Down with a light landing, I was soon parking, shutting and then tieing down the plane, knowing that the next time I fly solo cross-country will be after I have gained my Private Pilot License.

Joining right crosswind leg for landing on runway 29R Bankstown

Reflections and learnings

The main thing I took away that I think I need to work on is to work on the strict discipline of tracking my progress against my flight plan. I think I was a little bit spoilt on this flight in that I’d done it before (albeit with an instructor beside me) and therefore didn’t perhaps have to work quite as hard on staying aware of where I was as I might otherwise have had to. I feel that I could definitely improve in terms of using my watch to maintain frequent estimates of how far along (and off) a flight planned track I may be, and cross-checking those estimates against visual indicators on the ground. I’m not saying I’m not doing these things – far from it – but I think there’s plenty of room for improvement in terms of how often I do it, and how accurately.

What’s next

Since making this flight I’ve passed my final theory exam and once cancelled my final cross-country dual training flight due to illness. I’m hoping to do this final flight in a couple of week. Once that’s done, all that remains  is the PPL test!

Nearly there: All the theory tests are done!

I passed my final PPL theory exam yesterday with a mark of 83% (minimum 70% pass mark). The exam wasn’t too hard, though there are a few areas I’ll need to work on (guided by the ominously-named “Knowledge Deficiency Report” which the computer spat out at the end). Our club CFI Bill said as much, telling me that he may grill me on these areas when we go for my final flight test.

The two final questions (out of 54) I flat-out guessed, as they both related to Threat and Error Management (TEM), a subject completely absent from the theory materials I’ve been working from. My CFI seemed a little dismissive of these questions, apparently regarding them as over-fanciful technical terms for basic good airmanship, but I’m not so sure and I will read up on this a little bit. Any handy references from readers of this blog post would be most welcome!

(I’ve started a TEM discussion thread on downwind.com.au, check out the thread there if you’re interested, some good comments from the Downwind community).

I went into the exam feeling a bit undercooked in terms of preparation. I lightly revised the PPL theory material in the last fortnight, but it wasn’t a really heavy hitting-of-the-books. I’d meant to do the 3 Bob Tait PPL cyberexams I’ve still got access to, but (family) life got in the way and the nights I’d meant to devote to the sample exams slipped through my fingers. My wife Laura confidently told me that I’d nail the exam regardless, and I was in cautious agreement as I usually perform pretty well in theory exams. But for maximum comfort I’d always planned to do as many sample exams in the week prior as I could – well, it just didn’t turn out that way. But it’s done, I’ve passed, and as my CFI said, I wouldn’t have wanted to get 100% anyway else CASA would think I was cheating!

Something different: photos from early years of Australian aviation

This link to the Sydney Morning Herald features 15 fantastic photographs from the early years of Australian aviation, including Harry Houdini’s famous flight at Diggers Rest in 1910, the late Nancy Bird Walton, and Charles Kingsford Smith and Charles Ulm with the magnificent 3-engine Fokker Southern Cross.

Brief update

I did my 2nd solo cross-country navigation flight – Bankstown-Cowra-Orange-Bathurst-Katoomba-Bankstown, with landings at Cowra and Orange – back on Friday 3 June. Just a great flight. You can find a detailed account of that flight here, but if you’re interested, here is a series of in-flight photographs taken with my humble Blackberry. Quality of the shots is not bad, considering.

Things have been quiet lately. Tomorrow I will sit my final theory exam – the PPL (Private Pilot License) exam – wish me luck! Weather permitting, next week I’ll do a cross-country dual flight up north of Sydney. Once that flight is done, it will be time to schedule the CFI for my final PPL test …

Day 20: Lesson 27 – More instrument flying/simulated radio failure

Date: 31/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 0.80 0.00 0.50
Total to date 25.44 1.40 1.20

Today was an extremely ordinary day from a weather point of view. However, we did get up this morning to do my 2nd lesson of Basic Instrument Flying (building on my rather successful first instrument flying lesson several days ago) and to do a simulated radio failure on return to the aerodrome.

Basic Instrument Flying

We headed out into the murk (bottoms broken around 2000 feet) in UFY. After turning left off runway 11L, John almost immediately directed me to put on the hood. A few minutes of flying on instruments and then John made with the post-it notes, progressively blocking out more of my flight instruments (altimeter, vertical speed indicator, airspeed indicator, turn coordinator) to simulate instrument failures. Very difficult to fly on instruments without benefit of my altimeter – when John removed the post-it note I found that I’d lost a few hundred feet in altitude despite my best efforts to fly straight and level.

But all this must have gone OK, because we then progressed to the next part of the lesson. John directed me to put my head down (so I couldn’t see any of my flight instruments) while he put the aircraft into an “unusual” attitude (eg. nose high or nose low, wings banked, airspeed rapidly increasing or decreasing) and then had me resume control and quickly restore the aircraft to straight and level flight using only instruments.

Not easy. But again, must have done OK. In a nose-high attitude with airspeed decreasing, basic drill was to increase power, lower the nose and level the wings. Conversely, in a nose-low attitude with airspeed increasing, basic drill was to reduce power, level the wings and level out.

I’m under no illusions that I’m anything like a capable pilot on instruments. There is, after all, a reason that there are entire ratings devoted to learning this highly specialised flight skill. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not allowed to go anywhere near cloud and never intend to, but it’s good to have had at least an elementary exposure to instrument flying.

Simulated Radio Failure

Scenario: I’m out in the training area, returning to the airport and I tune my radio to the ATIS to find out latest weather, runway direction etc. No joy. I try to get the tower frequency, no luck there either. I try to figure out if there’s something easily fixable with my radio set – volume, squelch, correct frequencies, switches etc. Still no luck. What do I do then? I have to get back to the airport and get down somehow.

First thing is to remember that just because I can’t hear the ATIS or tower doesn’t mean they can’t hear me. My receiver may be faulty but my transmitter works just fine. So, in sequence:

  • Squawk 7600 on my transponder
  • Make my inbound call as normal including the phrase “transmitting blind” – at least if they can hear me, they’ll know I’m inbound and that I can’t hear them
  • Overfly the aerodrome at 1500 feet – 500 feet about circuit height – and identify wind and/or traffic direction (look at the windsock, other aircraft in the circuit or on approach etc.)
  • Once landing direction is determined, overfly the runway in the landing direction and let down to 1000 feet while overflying the runway
  • Make my crosswind turn, then turning downwind, make my standard downwind call including the phrase “transmitting blind”
  • Start looking at the tower for light signals – I’m looking for the green that signals me I can land if satisfied no collision risk exists
  • And start flashing my landing and nav lights – certainly on base leg, but no reason I can’t start doing this on downwind
  • Turn base and start to descend, keeping firm eye on the tower for my light
  • If green light sighted, I’m clear to land – acknowledge by flashing lights, then land
  • If red light sighted or no light sighted, go around and repeat until tower “wakes up” and signals me in!

Not a circumstance I want to encounter in real life, but at least I know what to do now.

Pre-Area Solo Exam and next steps

The weather turned filthy, so I sat my Pre-Area Solo exam and got that out of the way (86%). If the weather is good tomorrow, I may fly 3 times. Need a lesson on Steep Turns. Then I have a checkride booked with Ashley (from my first solo) to verify my readiness for my first Area Solo. And if that works out, and weather still permits, I’ll do my first Area Solo tomorrow afternoon.

Weather I do Area Solo tomorrow or early next week, I don’t mind so much, but really looking forward to it. First solo sortie away from the airport! First time around I’ll basically fly out into the training area and kind of float around for an hour, keeping good proximity to Prospect Reservoir so I can find my way back to the airport. One done, my 2nd and 3rd area solos will be similar but I’ll be able to do some more practice of stalls, forced landings etc.

And, we’re planning ahead now to the GFPT (General Flying Proficiency Text) exam. We’ve booked our Chief Flying Instructor for Wednesday 13 April! There’s plenty of flying to do before then, and also the BAK (Basic Aeronautical Knowledge) theory exam. But now it’s getting serious. The GFPT exam is a good 1.5 hours in the air and probably another 30 minutes or so on the ground. Exciting, a little daunting, but this is what I’ve been after. Once this is done, I’ll have my “restricted” licence and will be able to carry passengers in the local training area.

Following that point, it’ll be the cross-country navigation exercises and accompanying theory leading up to the full PPL (Private Pilots Licence). Some or most of this component I’ll be doing part-time, as my 5th week of my 8 weeks off work is almost done. But that’s all fine.

Things are accelerating!

Day 19: Lessons 25/26– Forced Landings

Date: 30/03/2011

Hours flown Dual Command Instruments
This flight 2.00 0.00 0.00
Total to date 24.64 1.40 0.70

Today was the nicest flying weather in pretty much the nearly 5 weeks I’ve flown. (Discounting, of course, the storm that hit the Sydney area around 3pm this afternoon!)

The ride was NFR (November Foxtrot Romeo), probably the aircraft I’ve spent the most time in now. I was expecting to do steep turns today, but that’s slated for tomorrow. Today – for both lessons – we did (practise) forced landings.

From a theory point of view, there’s an established body of knowledge and procedure around engine failure/forced landing situations. Some of this focuses around establishing “high key” and “low key” decision points at 2500 feet and 1500 feet AGL (above ground level). However, as John pointed out, in real forced landing situations – especially in the heat and stress of the moment – you won’t necessarily know the height of the ground below you and be able to calibrate the high key and low key decision points very accurately. More practically, John recommended that in forced landing situations I choose, preferably, a suitable landing place either to the left or right of the aircraft, that lies visually “under” the wing. In other words, a spot on the ground that you can be sure you can glide to. Failing suitable landing spots to the left or right, try a landing site ahead of the aircraft, or in the last option, behind the aircraft.

So, in real (and simulated) engine failure/forced landing situations, it’s the usual mantra of Aviate-Navigate-Communicate.

  • Aviate – Convert airspeed into height until you reach optimum glide speed (around 75 KIAS in a Warrior). Reach and maintain optimum glide speed. Select your target landing area, taking (quickly) into account a range of factors including wind speed and direction, size of site, slope of site, surface of site, obstacles and obstructions etc. Plan your approach, including contingency plans (eg. what if I can’t make it? what if I come in too high? too low?) And, do a quick run-through of engine/fuel controls and system to see if the engine failure is fixable. (CMF – Carby heat on, Mixture full rich, Fuel pump on, switch fuel tanks).
  • Navigate – Execute your forced landing approach as described above.
  • Communicate – Squawk 7700 on your transponder, and make your Mayday call.

Then if time remains and circumstances permit, do a more comprehensive check of engine and fuel systems – CFMOST. Carby heat on. Fuel pump on. Mixture full rich, including cycling mixture control through full rich-lean range and back. Oil – how are my oil pressure and temperature? Magneto switches – try switching just to the left magneto, then to the right, to see if the engine can run on just the one. And Throttle – cycle through full open-closed range and back.

While this is all going on, of course, there may be passengers to take care of. Calm and reassure them (to the extent possible). Give them something to do – ask them to help by watching out for other air traffic. Instruct them to remove eyeglasses and pens/other objects from shirt pockets.

From a glide approach point of view, part of planning your forced landing (and changing your plans as circumstances dictate) is how you’re going to get there and get down. Do you have enough height for a full circuit? Can you perhaps do only a straight-in final approach, or can you do a base and perhaps even a downwind leg? Do you have enough height that you can even do an upwind leg as well? Do you have to extend your glide a bit to lose height before the landing? Or do you need to cut things short and head straight for your landing site? At all events, can you glide to about 1/3 down your intended landing site? (When, and only when, confident of this last point, is the point at which you can use flaps to slow yourself down).

In real situations, I think if you manage to do all of this, you’re doing well. Main priority, when all is said and done, is to get the aircraft down on the ground and walk away safely and without injury. If the aircraft is undamaged, that’s a bonus, but lives and personal safety are priority #1.

So, how did I do?

First, John demonstrated a forced landing approach to the little gravel strip out at St Mary’s. Easy as pie. Then back up to 3500 feet and it was my turn. I approached way too high and would have overshot the strip and not made it down. Next attempt from 2000 feet was better, I even pulled off a decent sideslip on my own (to lose height quickly) to get down and would have landed relatively safely.

Next attempt I selected a reasonable landing site but lost site of it and therefore had to select an alternative which was nowhere near as good. And in any case, I’d made a poor choice of site given options available – I went for a site on the right hand side of the aircraft, where obstacles and some hilly ground abounded. There was better, more clear and flatter ground off to my left.

Insight #25

Select your preferred forced landing site with care (within the constraints of circumstances and available time). A split-second decision like the one I made above (poorly) can mean the difference between a nearly “ideal” landing site and a much less ideal one.

My final practise forced landing was pretty reasonable. I changed my choice of site 3 times on the way down – once because my preferred landing site had a fence running lengthwise straight down it – but my final site was quite good and I would have got down OK. If anything it showed me that a decision you make at 3500 feet may have to change once you get lower and can see more features on the ground.

More Training Area experience

Apart from the focus on forced landings, I also got some much-needed training area experience, as I approach my Training Area solo. Stuff I’m now more solid on:

  • Departure procedures from Bankstown – maintain 1000 feet (or 1500 depending on takeoff direction) until over the railway tracks. Then up to (say) 2300 feet (no higher than 2500 feet as that is lower boundary of surrounding Class C airspace). Then up to (say) 4000 feet once over a line intersecting Tadpole Lake to the north and 3 Lakes to the south (again, no higher than 4500 feet due lower limits of Class C airspace).
  • Radio and transponder procedures. Once abeam of Prospect Reservoir, switch radio to 124.55 (Sydney Radar) and transponder to 1200.
  • Inbound approach procedures (reporting in at Prospect or 2RN, and joining traffic pattern for landing at Bankstown).

What’s next

So, tomorrow (as usual, weather permitting) we will do our lesson on Steep Turns, with a little Incipient Spins drill thrown in. And in the afternoon I’ll do my pre-Training Area Solo theory exam.

Friday I’ve got a checkride scheduled with Ashley (from my First Solo checkride) so he can verify I’m ready for my Training Area solo. Then, perhaps Monday (or Sunday, if I schedule it?) my Training Area Solo, which I’m really looking forward to. The aircraft all to myself, just me, away from the airport for the first time! Very much looking forward to this.